Choose the Quiet

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

…aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands…

– 1 Thessalonians 4:11b (NKJV)

In 2002, Gary Jules covered the Tears for Fears song “Mad World” for the movie Donnie Darko. While I have never seen the film, the soft piano notes at the beginning of the song are instantly recognizable. I know that a quiet, breathy male voice will soon tell his story, a story that doesn’t quite make sense. Of course, with a title like “Mad World,” it’s probably not supposed to make sense.

I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad…

Repeated throughout the song, these phrases could be my anthem. I find it funny, as in odd, how the art of reasonable conversation has been lost. I find it sad, too. I find it odd how impossible it is to turn off the noise. Sad, too. Blame social media, blame news organizations, blame whoever and whatever you’d like to blame, but there is no denying the tension that hangs in the air, thick and oppressive.

No denying that our world is, perhaps, a mad place.

And so my verse for the year.

We have to live here. No jumping on a ship bound for Mars. Nothing would be different on Mars, anyway, because we’d be there. The problem is us. We’re stuck with that fact, stuck with each other. Yet we don’t have to live as though this is all there is. We don’t have to maneuver for the best position, the greatest influence, the largest pile of stuff. We don’t have to scrabble and scrape and step on each other. There is a different way.

That way is hēsycházō.

…to keep quiet; to rest, cease from labor; to lead a quiet life, said of those who are not running hither and thither, but stay at home and mind their business; to be silent, i.e. to say nothing, hold one’s peace…

Old / New Testament Greek Lexical Dictionary

Did you know that you can rest? Did you know that it’s okay to have empty spaces on your calendar? Did you know that you don’t have to speak to or about every single issue? Did you know that it’s okay to unplug and unwind?

Did you know that quietness is a command?

God knows more and better than we ever can. How easily we forget this truth. Our minds can’t handle the 24-hours news cycle, which seems to have shrunk to 8 or less. Our hearts can’t handle the constant stress that comparison brings, an inevitability in the age of Facebook and Twitter. Our spirits can’t handle screaming and straining every moment of every day. We are finite. Fragile. Made from the dust that I am constantly working to banish from my home.

Yes, it is true that burying our heads in the sands of denial and ignorance does no good. We are commanded to be quiet, but we are also commanded to be watchful (see Matthew 24:42-44, 25:13). Knowing what is going on is necessary. Making time to engage with the issues of the day is important. This life of faith does not equal mush-brain and hiding. We have to think. We have to learn. We have to grow.

What we don’t have to do is deny our fragility.

Before God made people, He made a garden. He stepped back and looked at everything – mighty trees, dainty flowers, cascading waterfalls. He heard the snuffling of furry creatures and the fluttering of bird’s wings. He paused, took it all in and declared it good.

If God, who has no need for rest, took the time to enjoy the simple beauty of a garden, then who are we to think we can cope with incessant noise?

There is business. There is work. Bills have to be paid and food has to be on the table. Homes must be cared for and jobs must be done well.

There is also the silence of snow falling at midnight. The rise and fall of a dog’s chest as he naps. The feel of a clean pair of socks.

We need space. We need to turn off the computer and tune out the ping of smartphone notifications. For an hour or two. Just long enough to sip coffee and gaze out the front window. Just long enough to gain control over raging emotions and lashing tongues. Just long enough to keep from gossiping. Just long enough to keep from committing to too many things out of guilt or fear. Just long enough to remember that God carries the weight of the world, not us.

We need to choose the quiet.

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Five Minute Friday: Depend

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The scent of sawdust fills the air. I hear the mechanical whine of the blade as it slices through wood. My husband, self-taught carpenter that he is, labors over another project. Only it isn’t labor for him. It’s joy. Release. Relaxation.

Occasionally it’s a swear word and throwing something.

Kate says: depend.

Go.

I have a post written. I’ve cut it from here and pasted it elsewhere. Attempting to decide if it should be published. Gone back and forth for a solid 20 minutes.

This is far longer than the usual FMF entry. And it might make you mad.

Here goes.

********

In light of the command to go and share the Gospel, does this matter? When you are on your face before the throne in Eternity, will this matter?

Two questions that came to mind early this morning as I lay on the couch, bemoaning my existence. (To paraphrase Jon Leguizamo as Tybalt in Baz Lurhman’s amazing adaptation of Romeo & Juliet: “Migraine, thou art a villain”). Normally I cannot think deeply when in pain. In fact, I can barely think at all. But clear as a bell, these questions rang through my mind, adding their noise to the discordant symphony already in progress.

The overall, highly generalized answer to both: It depends.

So some dudes who make a lot of money to play a game have been kneeling before said games while the “Star-Spangled Banner” is performed. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began doing so on September 2, 2016, after a conversation with Nate Boyer, a former Seahawk and Green Beret. Before then, Kaepernick sat on the bench during the anthem. Boyer understood the Kaepernick wanted to protest police brutality against African-Americans, but encouraged him to take a more respectful posture while doing so, which Kaepernick did. Others have since followed suit.

This opened a ginormous can of worms.

But oddly, a year later.

President Trump chose to cast these peaceful, lawful, respectful protests as being anti-American and anti-veteran. (I don’t know what’s in his mind, but could this sudden battle have been waged to distract everyone from what’s happening – or not happening – in Washington, D.C.)?

Some believe that these rich, privileged men have no right to protest anything, no right to draw attention to injustice. (Because you have to be poor to protest? Or you have to experience a bad thing in order to say the thing is bad? Or you can’t care about the “little guy” when you’re famous)?

Others say that, instead of protesting, they should give time and money to organizations that will make things better. (I don’t doubt that some are big talkers, but I also don’t doubt that more than a few of these men do just that. We simply don’t hear of it. And if we did, we’d probably skewer them for their pride in parading their good deeds for all to see, because we, the public, are quite fickle and impossible to please).

Another set desires new laws to be made, laws that enforce displays of commonly-accepted patriotism. (That’s what North Korea does. Aren’t we not fans of that kind of thing)?

It boils down to: First Amendment, sure, but not like that.

Parts of the above remain within the realm of “I can sort of see your point” but certain folks take it a step farther and conflate standing for the anthem with worshiping God. In order to be a good Christian, you must be a good American, in the way that the majority understands being a good American. Hot dogs and apple pie and all that. Because Jesus loves America more than other countries.

It bothers me more than I can express to see “render unto Caesar” and “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” abused in order to prop up American civil religion, a belief system that cannot and will not save. The Bible does not command anyone to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” If that’s what you believe, then, in order to be consistent, you have to be angry with the Amish, Mennonites and other religious groups who neither sing nor pledge. You have to stop reading this blog and shun me forever, because my convictions on this run very contrary to popular opinion.

Do not mistake me: I judge no Christian who stands for the anthem or says the pledge. That is between the individual and God. (To be perfectly honest, I don’t care if anyone stands, sits or kneels. This is genuinely not something that’s an issue to me, which is why I’m perplexed at the passion this has aroused in so many). What causes me to tear my hair out is when Christians scream about those who do not stand or pledge, particularly fellow Christians who do not stand or pledge, as if they do not have the freedom, enshrined in the Constitution we all claim to love, but most especially within the confines of the intelligence and the will that He gave each person, to make a different choice, a choice that is neither unlawful, immoral or disrespectful, despite being discussed in such terms.

(Note here before continuing: Dear reader, I am a pacifist. I have not, do not and will not support violence. I do not believe in being nasty to those with whom you disagree. I have family members in the military and on the police force, and so I know that the majority of people who enter these professions are doing so out of a genuine desire to do what they believe to be right and not because they are hateful, awful people).

I don’t know if protest is always the right way to address anything, but I support the right of these men to take a knee. They aren’t yelling at anyone, or spitting on graves, or shooting at people, or burning buildings. They’re just kneeling for two minutes or less. They are quietly drawing attention to a real problem.

You don’t have to agree with them. You don’t have to like what they’re doing. You can choose to never watch football again.

Isn’t it nice to have that freedom?

What you can’t do is say that they don’t have a right to do this – the NFL makes the rules regarding player conduct, not the viewers or the government. You can’t say that they hate America or soldiers – those interviewed consistently and clearly say that their protests aren’t about any of that. You can’t say that Christians who support these men or who do not choose to sing or pledge are any less saved than you are – salvation is found in Christ alone, not Christ and patriotism.

But let’s get back to the questions that began this post: Does this matter? Will it matter?

I don’t want to present a false dichotomy, a trap I unknowingly fell into earlier this week when discussing these things. You can be upset about the protest and the devastation in Puerto Rico and a whole host of other things that are going on. You’re not required to pick and choose. But, again, does nail-spitting anger over 2 minutes or less and quiet kneeling matter right now and will it matter later?

Or is it all just a distraction?

Now go and read this other long thing, written by someone far smarter than me.

Stop (was a long time ago).

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Frankly Alarming

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Recently I came across a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual.”

Written in 1949 by George Orwell, 1984 is a novel about:

Winston Smith…a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.

SparkNotes Plot Summary

Republicans accuse Democrats of Newspeak. Democrats accuse Republicans of Newspeak. From cries of “fake news” to the redefinition of words as part of growing moral relativism, the blame rests equally on the shoulders of members of both major parties. Subtly, sneakily, by raising the temperature of the pot ever-so-slowly so that we aren’t alarmed when the water begins to boil, we have been ushered into an new age of propaganda.

Don’t believe me? Go and check out President Trump’s “real news.” State sponsored/controlled media. That’s a thing we have now. #Icanteven.

 

Irritated as I am over this, I’m not surprised. Both parties have been effective in undermining the work and position of the media. Both parties have gone into overdrive in painting the other as the most evil entity to have ever existed. Both parties have ingeniously and deviously played on the fear, ignorance and arrogance of the American people. I hope that my fellow countrypeople wake up. I hope they reject this insanity.

But this article isn’t even about that.

What gets under my skin even more, what pushes my temper to the hot zone, is the proliferation of evangelical propaganda. Consider:

Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to “take out” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”

Jeffress said in a phone interview that he was prompted to make the statement after Trump said that if North Korea’s threats to the United States continue, Pyongyang will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The biblical passage Romans 13 gives the government authority to deal with evildoers, Jeffress said. “That gives the government … the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” he said.

He said that many pacifist Christians will cite Romans 12, which says, “Do not repay evil for evil,” but Jeffress says that the passage is referring to Christians, not to the government.

“A Christian writer asked me, ‘Don’t you want the president to embody the Sermon on the Mount?’ ” he said, referring to Jesus’s sermon. “I said absolutely not.”

Washington Post; August 9, 2017

This is easily summarized: God is okay with evil actions if they stop other evil actions, especially if the United States (and, more specifically, the President/party we like) takes the action.

Last I checked, assassination is murder. Where does God say He’s cool with that?

Now, consider this:

“I can’t help but admire Jared and Ivanka. The two of them have put their lives entirely on hold in order to pursue the good of their nation, and I have found them to be particularly interested in our concerns as evangelical Christians. It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations.”

“I have found every interaction with Jared Kushner to be exemplary. He is clearly an extraordinary individual, with obvious integrity, and he has been a great gift to the evangelical community. We have always found him to be ‘an ever-present help in time of need.’ There are few things I’m sure of in the world we are living in today, but one of thing I am sure of is that Jared Kushner is a good man, and I’m honored to know him.”

Pastors David Jerimiah and Samuel Rodriguez

An allusion to Mary and Joseph. Really?

Quoting Psalm 46:1 – the opening line of a song of praise to God – in lauding a mere mortal. Where’s the bolt of lightning?

Once again I think about all the professors I had, the ones who would have not hesitated to fail me or anyone else who dared to present such shoddy, sloppy interpretation. These church leaders, who have influence over so many, are engaging in Newspeak. They attempt to eliminate opposition by removing any understanding of doctrine and Scripture that would testify against the activities of the current administration. Are they calculated or malicious in doing so? I can’t guess at the motives. God alone knows. All I can do is point to the rotten fruit and tell you not to eat it.

Whatever your politics, this abuse of Scripture is wrong. Blatantly so. Crossed over into disturbing. This is not what we’re to be about, folks. We don’t use the Bible to prop up politicians and we don’t twist it to fit our agendas. We don’t snip it and pick it and fold it and ignore the stuff that doesn’t fit within our existing worldviews. We either take the whole Bible as it is and allow the words of truth to shape us via the loving, convicting, guiding activity of the Holy Spirit, or we inevitably destroy it and thus destroy our ability to witness, to speak truth.

Consider a churchman who understands this:

[Moore] actually been warning about someone like him for years. Writing prophetically in his 2014 book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Moore warned that Christians “ought to be the last people to fall for hucksters and demagogues.” He argued against the coziness that old-guard evangelical Christians had nurtured within the Republican Party in the last few decades and chastised believers who celebrated politicians in exchange for access and power.

“Some sectors of religious activism are willing to receive, as Christians, heretics and demagogues, so long as they are with us politically,” Moore wrote. “When that happens, we are demonstrating what we believe to be truly important, and we are embracing then a different gospel from the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

He also rejected the notion that the United States was a nation in covenant with God.
“Our end goal is not a Christian America,” he wrote. “That illusion is over, and happily so.”

– The Survival of a Southern Baptist who Dared to Oppose Trump

I realize that my position on these matters and increasing willingness to share that position with others is abhorrent to some. Know this: It’s not a Trump thing. If Clinton had won, I would be just as appalled at the evangelical community, for no doubt, instead of slavish devotion, many would have opposed anything her administration attempted out of sheer spite.

Slavish devotion or sheer spite.

Surely these are not our only options.

Surely we are called to something better, something higher.

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Photo credit: Christin Hume

Five Minute Friday: Expect

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

I can’t figure out the world we’re living in. These are surely times that try human souls (thanks, Dickens). Government is a mess, reduced to odd tweets and cringe-worthy memes. Viewers rail against talk-show hosts for being not political enough (or too political) because apparently we decided to just give up reading and wrestling with news ourselves and instead just want someone to stoke the fires of our collective rage. Goodness, is there ever rage. Against Trump. Against Clinton. Against practically every member of Congress.

That foaming and frothing would be enough, but the rage has become personal. Intimate. No longer, it seems, can civility be maintained. Relationships crumble. Strangers shout at each other through the keys. This country is locked in “us vs. them” chaos, only we don’t really know who the “us” or the “them” are.

I didn’t vote for Trump. Made no secret of that. I’m very concerned about what truths lie beneath the surface, truths that begin to bubble up, popping and singeing those close by. Intuition tells me that the firestorm – raging for so long now – has really only just begun. And yet I can’t muster up hatred for those who did tick the box for him. Am I aware that Trump appealed to the misogynistic and xenophobic tendencies running throughout this country during the campaign, and that he continues to do so? Painfully aware. Do I think that those who stubbornly turn a blind eye to the faults of this administration are deep in denial? Yes. Do I think history will look back and see his time in office as one of the greatest missteps the United States of America has ever made? Probably.

But still. I can’t hate people who voted for him. The majority of us, I believe, want the same thing at the end of the day, as Thomas Jefferson so eloquently wrote: life, liberty happiness. We differ sharply on how such goals are achieved, but these are our desires.

I wonder, if we could all just remember that for a second, if we could start putting country and neighbor above party and power, would things take a turn for the better?

Linking up with Kate at the new FMF home. Tonight we:

Go.

I haven’t changed my mind about the nature of humanity. We aren’t basically good. Apart from God, we are capable of good, sure, but our fundamental bent is selfish. World peace isn’t going to suddenly break out. There’s a radical Anabaptist strain to my theology; I believe that it’s highly possible, even probable, that we will only continue a downhill slide, however slow it might be. I suppose I’m just dumbfounded that this election was the thing to expose the darkness. Then again, I know my history well enough to recognize that politics in this country has never been pretty or easy. Perhaps it was inevitable.

The Founding Fathers made backdoor deals. They were hardly paragons of morality. Jackson sent an entire people group into exile and death. Bleeding Kansas. Civil War. Jim Crow. Economic disaster. Riots. Kent State. When I entered first grade, we were at war in the Middle East. Twenty-seven years later, we still are.

I know all of this.

And yet I keep hoping, praying, that somehow, some way, everyone is going to calm down and we can move on. Move forward. Perhaps that is an unreal hope. I don’t know.

I did not expect this…mess. In the back of my mind lived the assumption that cooler heads and steadier hearts would prevail at the end of the day. There’s still time. It could happen.

And so I remain a pessimist trying to see the light in and amongst the clouds.

Even the barest hint would do.

Stop.

I’ve left you on a downbeat, something I’m not fond of doing. I’d much prefer to make you laugh or give you something to think on. But I can’t pretend or say “peace” when there is no peace. This is where we are, in the middle of a swirling storm that shows no signs of abating. A numbness, a sense of disbelief, accompanies the sound of thunder and the crash of waves. How did we get here? How did this happen?

No amount of think pieces can provide an answer. I wonder if those are even in the right questions. Maybe it’s not about how we got here, but what we do now.

Please, if you have a good idea – let me know.

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Photo credit: Nathan Anderson